Caitriona Balfe was on Starz’ Fiercely Female panel for the Television Critics Association. She was joined by Outlander EP Maril Davis, and casts and creators from Vida, Power, Sweetbitter and American Gods.
After the panel, Balfe spoke with reporters more specifically about Outlander. She’s about to shoot season five, and she also reflected on the show’s portrayal of sensitive sexual situations.
Are you in the middle of season five now?
Caitriona Balfe: “We have not started shooting yet. We are going to start in a couple of weeks so I’m here for the rainy season of Valet and then I’ll go back to a rainy season in Glasgow.”
Have you seen any of the scripts yet?
Caitriona Balfe: “I’ve seen some outlines but no scripts as yet.”
What makes you excited about the new season?
Caitriona Balfe: “I think I’m looking forward to a lot in this next season. I think there’s a lot of interesting things that we’re going to get to explore in terms of family, in terms of loyalties, especially in politics. It’s very new to me, all of this kind of time in American history. To understand the intricacies of what was going on in America in that time during its infancy, the people that were coming into the country, who their allegiances were lying with. It’s all really interesting stuff and it’s very new so that makes it really exciting.
It’s very different to Scottish politics and Scottish history, so I find that really interesting. It’s also exploring the life of an older woman I’m finding really, really interesting and trying to learn and appreciate where she’s at, what her values are, what things become important to her. It’s new territory as well for me because I’m not that old yet.”
How old is she?
Caitriona Balfe: “She is well into her 50s actually, so she’s like 53, 54 at this point which I’m not.”
Are you hoping to hold up as well as she has?
Caitriona Balfe: “She does pretty well. I have to imagine something happens going through the stones, but it’s really interesting. She’s a grandmother this season which I think is a really interesting time in a woman’s life. It’s great to be able to explore that and have an extended family be around and also to deepen this marriage and this relationship in new ways because their life now is very new. This is a new role they’re taking on. It’s a new place and they’ve settled into this new community, so I think it’s really interesting.”
You didn’t grow up here and neither did Claire. The scene where you meet George Washington…
Caitriona Balfe: “The significance in that was slightly lost on me. I was like what is this cherry tree thing, really? And everyone was like everybody in America knows about it. This is the fun thing about how Diana wove these stories through real life historical events. We get to include these great historical figures into the show, whether it was with Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy before and different people, King Louis and all those things. It’s nice to be able to do that in America as well and I think maybe going forward there might be a few more, so it’s good.”
Have you read all the way through?
Caitriona Balfe: “No, I have just started on book six. So I’m in and out at the moment.”
They haven’t gotten to Philadelphia yet?
Caitriona Balfe: “No.”
Is there something from the fifth book you’re really excited to act out?
Caitriona Balfe: “Yeah, there’s a lot. I still don’t know exactly what is going to end up in the show but like I said, there’s a lot of also Claire as last season, her doctor side in some ways is put to one side. We got to see little glimpses of it. I think now that they’re going to settled in Fraser’s Ridge, it’s a real opportunity to establish herself in getting that kind of professional side of her life back in an order that is very fulfilling for her. So I think that’s exciting too.”
Is this the season where she discovers how to make ether?
Caitriona Balfe: “She discovers how to make penicillin which is very important.”
She sets everything on fire?
Caitriona Balfe: “She hasn’t done that one yet.”
Why is it important to tell realistic stories about both sexual violation and sexual pleasure? And we talk about safe spaces. What is it like as actors?
Caitriona Balfe: “First of all, telling Claire’s sex life through this female gaze or the sex that Jamie and Claire have, it’s very important to who they are as a couple. And that’s an important, I think, aspect of the story. I think the sexual violence is also an important part of the storytelling if you’re going to tell the real life story of what was going on in that time in that place. We have a responsibility I think to try and do it in a responsible way and to try and give agency to the characters that are being victimized. And I think we’ve done a pretty good job in not just showing the act but then in the repercussions. I think that was so important in Briana’s story this season that we get to see the long lasting effects of what happens when you’ve been raped and how that affects not just the person, but also the family.
So yes, it’s definitely a part of the book series and so therefore it’s a part of our show. It’s in the DNA of that but I think we all spend an awful lot of time trying to do it in the right way. As actors, from very early on, Ron Moore was very clear that he wanted to do this in a different way. He didn’t want to do your typical TV sex and he wanted to make it from a female perspective so that automatically puts you in a much safer space. And then it’s a continuation of conversations and making sure that every time one of these scenes come up, it’s not just like oh, well, you guys do that so we’re just going to do the same thing again. Every single time is a new conversation because how you feel about yourself and your body and where you’re at, it changes from day to day, month to month. You have to constantly make sure that everybody’s comfortable and okay with something that’s going to live on the internet or in pictures or on video for the rest of your life.
We’re very lucky that we have an open dialogue with our producers and our writers. It’s very important to keep that open and keep it a strong conversation.”
Can you do female gaze even if the director is male?
Caitriona Balfe: “Yes, of course. I think there’s this kind of idea that only women can tell women’s stories, only men can tell men’s stories. That’s complete rubbish. We’ve had some male directors who have been far more sensitive and far more in tune with their sensitivity and their emotional sensitivity than some female directors, but I don’t think it runs down the line of your sex. I think it’s about respect and it’s about sensitivity, and I think all people have the capacity for that.”
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